The Slow News Movement

In relation to the post I did last month about “news miles” compared to “food miles,” I found this entry from Mediactive about the desire to start a “slow news” movement.

Dan Gilmore writes, regarding false Twitter info coming out of the Ft. Hood shootings:

Like many other people who’ve been burned by believing too quickly, I’ve learned to put almost all of what journalists call “breaking news” into the categories of gossip or, in the words of a scientist friend, “interesting if true.” That is, even though I gobble up “the latest” from a variety of sources, the closer the information is in time to the actual event, the more I assume it’s unreliable if not false.

SnailIt’s my own version of “slow news” — an expression I first heard on Friday, coined by my friend Ethan Zuckerman in a wonderful riff off the slow-food movement. We were at a Berkman Center for Internet & Society retreat in suburban Boston, in a group discussion of ways to improve the quality of what we know when we have so many sources from which to choose at every minute of the day.

One of society’s recently adopted cliches is the “24-hour news cycle” — the recognition that the once-a-day, manufacturing-based version of journalism has essentially passed into history for those who consume and create news via digital systems. Now, it’s said, we get news every hour of every day, and media creators work tirelessly to fill those hours with new stuff.

I had a long bar conversation one night with Andy Phillips (now EIC of about the desire to get into a “post-timeliness” era of news gathering. That is to say, the era we are mired in right now is one in which timeliness is everything, where the ability to get news up first still draws the largest crowd (as Gilmore notes in his post).  I made the case that right now, Twitter and citizen journalism still have that alluring luster of being everyone, all the time, immediately. Why wait, for instance, to read the BBC’s thorough roundup coverage of the Mumbai shootings last year, when you can just click on a Twitter feed and read a nearly minute-by-minute account of who’s being shot at and where?

But soon we will move past this. Soon, immediate timeliness will be standard and that fire hydrant blast of live updates and instant reports will be commonplace — with the smart news organizations realizing that they would do best to focus on trying to corral and catalog the raw information (from twitter, flickr and yfrog and so forth) than trying to replicate it. Then, when everybody is first with the news, it won’t seem so important who had it first.

What will be important, then, is perspective, analysis; not just the “what” of the news, but the “why” and “how.” The news organizations that will rise to the top in the post-timeliness era will be the ones who can provide value beyond just the happening-now aspects.

Newspapers still have a long way to go catching up with timeliness. My old newspaper’s twitter feed, for instance, seems to update most at 1 a.m. every night, when the only people reading it are wayward bearded bloggers in Brooklyn.

It’s just like with food: when we’ve developed as a society to the point where fast food is ubiquitous, meaning you no longer have to worry about whether you’re going to be able to feed yourself quickly. Then the focus moves off the plate of immediacy and you start looking at where the food comes from, what effect it has on the Earth and what it’s doing to your body. Hence the slow food movement. Hence then, we can hope, a slow news movement will take hold.


One response to “The Slow News Movement

  1. IT’LL NEVER WORK, HIPPIE. Pass me my Bacon Double Cheeseburger.

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